Dr. Philip Abraham turned a classroom assignment into a real-world tobacco policy in St. Louis County, Missouri.
[Photo: Dr. Philip Abraham]
Abraham is a pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and a student in the Executive Master of Health Administration program at Saint Louis University.
Assigned a policy brief for Dr. Kimberly Enard’s health policy course, Abraham honed in on an issue that had the potential both to improve patient health and to reduce health system costs: He wanted to advocate raising the legal age to purchase tobacco and smoking products from 18 to 21 in order to stop young people from developing a life-long addiction to a dangerous habit.
“I’m working with kids all of the time, and this issue was so applicable. Kids receive their smoking products from their peers. Nicotine is so addictive. The majority of kids who smoke are addicted before they turn 21,” Dr. Abraham said.
For Abraham, the classroom assignment wasn’t just an exercise; it was an opportunity to advocate for a policy that would benefit his young patients a few years down the road, as they hit an age when lifetime smoking habits frequently take hold.
He built a coalition in the St. Louis region, called T21, or Tobacco 21.
As Abraham’s proposal gained traction, he turned to allies to build support for the policy, including St. Louis County Council member Dr. Sam Page, Assistant Professor of Health Management and Policy Kevin Broom, and SLUCare pediatrician Matt Broom, M.D.
“Finding a councilman to sponsor the bill and push it forward was key,” Abraham said. “Dr. Sam Page was very instrumental in making this happen.”
On Sept. 6, 2016, the St. Louis County Council passed the bill, restricting sales of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to those 21 or older. The new rule took effect on Dec. 1.
“I’m pursuing this degree to help understand the business side of things,” Abraham said. “We don’t get enough exposure to how hospitals work in medical school, in terms of how medicine functions in our society and how it is delivered to our society.”
A similar effort for the City of St. Louis is currently underway.